Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Promoting Scholarly Communications and the BHL at the Mpala Research Centre

Under the auspices of Scott Miller, Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support (DUSCIS) and Vice-Chair of the Mpala Research Centre, I spent three days at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia County, Kenya with Carolyn A. Sheffield (BHL Program Manager) to learn more about the activities and research at Mpala and to explore partnerships around the Biodiversity Heritage Library and scholarly communications.

Library this way!
Dr. Dino Martins, Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre, met Kalfatovic and Sheffield outside of Nanyuki just north of the equator and in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, about 240 kilometers north of Nairobi. We made a short stop at the equator marker before picking up a few supplies for the trip back to Mpala. On the ninety minute drive from Nanyuki to Mpala, Dr. Martins gave a fascinating and useful overview of the history of Mpala, the complex interactions of wildlife and human agricultural activities around livestock and farming. Increasing pressure on the environment from the subdivision of land for residential development and challenges presented by climate change on the area are a daily concern for Martins as he manages the important living laboratory that is the Mpala Research Centre.

Mt Kenya
As noted on the Mpala website:
Mpala stretches over 48,000 acres of semi-arid savanna, acacia bushland, wooded grassland, rocky escarpments and riverine habitats along the Ewaso Nyiro and Ewaso Narok rivers. The Mpala Research Centre (MRC) receives hundreds of students, educators, and scientists from around the globe each year, conducting research on everything from parasites to elephants. The unique set up of Mpala allows for researchers to use the land as a ‘living laboratory’ in which to conduct experiments and answer pressing questions on conservation and wildlife.
With Dr. Martins
In touring the grounds of the Centre, Dr. Martins also spoke of the opportunities presented by the ongoing collaborative work done by the Conservancies, such as Mpala, Kenyan local and national governmental agencies, and private landowners to balance wildlife and nature conservation, sustainable economic development, and farming/ranching activities.

"Most research organizations in Kenya (including Mpala), as well as agencies who regulate research, are struggling with the challenges of tracking and making available the results of research. The tools that Smithsonian Research Online have used could be readily adapted for use by some of these organizations" said the Smithsonian's Scott Miller.

At the equator with Dr. Martins
To help better understand the work done at Mpala and the research needs, Dr. Martins personally took us on two evening game drives throughout the Mpala grounds. The visits were nothing short of spectacular. Sightings of various wildlife were numerous (see fuller list below), including many listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It was wonderful to see large groups of the endangered Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi) with young foals. Three species of vulnerable animals, Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), and Elephant (Loxodonta africana) were present in large numbers. Among the other Artiodactyla sighted, the groups of Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) were spectacular. Mpala also maintains herds of domestic cattle. At the end of the game drive, we stopped by one of the cattle enclosures as Dr. Martins consulted with the Mpala herdsmen on the status of the cattle.

Greater Kudu  (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)
The next morning, during a visit to the research facilities, we spent time in the N.S.F. and McCormack Research Labs at Mpala, where we were shown the ongoing work of visiting and longer term researchers, including experiments being down with caterpillars. On our first full morning at the Centre, we were taken on a bird watching walk of the grounds with ornithologist Sylvester Karimi.

Research labs
On the final day of the visit, presentations on scholarly communications management and the Biodiversity Heritage Library were given to an audience of about twenty people. Included in the audience were representatives from ten institutions, in addition to Mpala Research Centre staff. Institutions represented included were: Space for Giants,  Laikipia Wildlife ForumKenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Olpejeta ConservancyLewa ConservancyUniversity of Bayreuth, Daraja Academy,  Lekiji Primary School, Oljogi Primary School, and the Mpala Academy.

I spoke on "Managing Scholarly Research Output: The Smithsonian Institution Experience: An Introduction to Smithsonian Research Online" and BHL Program Manager Carolyn A. Sheffield presented on "Inspiring Discovery Through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge: The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)."

Mpala library volunteer Naomi Wanjiru Chege
At the conclusion of the presentations, we met with Mpala library volunteer Naomi Wanjiru Chege and Anchal Padukone (Princeton in Africa Fellow) to discuss the library facility at Mpala and possible areas of collaboration between the Centre and Smithsonian Libraries as well as the Biodiversity Heritage Library. We also had an opportunity to visit the studio facilities of Mpala Live!:
Mpala Live! gives you a round-the-clock look at the lives of elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, hippos, birds, and other animals in a fascinating swath of African landscape. Our webcams let you visually enter this realm. The Hippo Pool cameras, for instance, take you to a watering hole that attracts hippos, monkeys, zebras, giraffe, scores of bird species, and the occasional crocodile. 
Mpala Live!, with viewership in the millions, provides both educational and research activities with its active citizen science engagement.

With Naomi Wanjiru Chege
Our work at the Centre ended, we shared yet another wonderful meal with the guests, researchers, and Mpala staff. The lunch provided additional opportunities to learn about the work done in the Kenyan wildlife conservancies and at Mpala. The luncheon concluded, we met our transportation for the five hour ride back to Nairobi and our departing flight at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

On this visit to Kenya, we were treated to some wonderful sightings of the local flora and fauna. In Mpala and the nearby areas, the following were some of the highlights of the local fauna. For lists of the flora and fauna of Mpala, please see the following Mpala website page.

  • Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops)
  • Black-and-white colobus monkey (Colobus) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis)
  • Slender Mongoose (Galerella sanguinea)
Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
  • Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
  • Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)
  • Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
  • Impala (Aepyeros melampus)
  • Guenther's Dikdik (Madoqua guentheri)
  • Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris)
  • Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
  • Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)
  • Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Spider plant (Cleome gynandra)
  • Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)
  • Scrub hare (Lepus saxatilis)
  • Bush Hyrax (Heterohyrax brucei)
Cow (Bos taurus/indicus)
  • Cow (Bos taurus/indicus)
  • Sheep (Ovis aries) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Goat (Capra hircus) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Donkey (Equus africanus) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Camel (Camelus dromedaryus)
  • Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris)
  • Domestic Cat (Felis sylvestris)
AVES (Selected)
  • Vulturine Guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum)
  • Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
  • Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar)
  • Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)
  • Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius)
  • Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus)
  • Rock Martin (Hirundo fuligula)
  • Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)
  • Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)
A lone Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Promoting Scholarly Publication Data and the Biodiversity Heritage Library in Kenya with a Special Presentation at the U.S. Embassy, Nairobi

In May 2017, while attending the XXI Congress of the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa (AETFAT), Smithsonian Libraries' (SIL) staff Martin R. Kalfatovic and Carolyn A. Sheffield received a speaking invitation from the Embassy of the United States of America, Nairobi, Kenya from Tatum Albertine (Environment, Science, Technology & Health Officer).

The Embassy is located in Gigiri, north of the Nairobi central business district, about a two hour drive in Nairobi traffic from the Karen neighborhood where the AETFAT Congress was being held. The program was held in the American Reference Center (ARC) on the Embassy campus. The ARC serves students, teachers, researchers, journalists, business professionals and individuals simply interested in broadening their horizons on any topic.

The purpose of the talk was to provide a wider Kenyan community with information about the Biodiversity Heritage Library and services provided by Smithsonian Libraries to Smithsonian researchers that could serve as a model or inspiration for similar services to the broader research community in Kenya. There were invited guests from National Museums of Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service, Nature Kenya: The East African Natural History Society, and the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI). In addition, Albertine worked with ARC Deputy Director Nashon Akello to publicize the program widely with the university community and faculty and students from both Kenyatta University and the Technical University of Kenya.

Smithsonian Libraries Associate Director Martin R. Kalfatovic presentation, "Managing Scholarly Research Output: The Smithsonian Institution Experience: An Introduction to Smithsonian Research Online (SRO)" covered key components of the Smithsonian Libraries' SRO program of bibliographic data collection, data analysis for metrics and reporting, and communications to administrators, researchers, and the public. The presentation, based on previous presentations of SIL staff Alvin Hutchinson and Richard Naples and with input from Suzanne C. Pilsk. A representative of NACOSTI in attendance commented:
Information management and data analysis towards scholarly publications is very important indicator of a nation's development and reflects the potential of a nation to harness its human resource in solving problems of mankind. It also broadens the horizons of policy thinking and in addressing many critical issues the government faces. As a policy making institutions, scholarly publications will be very important in advising the government accurately. Therefore, your invitation of our institution was timely because this is one of the areas needed to be harnessed in advising the government by policy directions using real data.
As Scott Miller, Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support, who facilitated the planning for the program, noted:
Most research organizations in Kenya, as well as agencies who regulate research, are struggling with the challenges of tracking and making available the results of research.  The tools that Smithsonian Research Online have used could be readily adapted for use by some of these organizations.
Given the overlap of interests of many organizations in biodiversity research in Kenya, I also hope these presentations catalyze discussion of the possibility of a multi-organization collaboration to create a centralized data archive that has multiple portals to serve different users.
Carolyn A. Sheffield, BHL Program Manager, presented on "Inspiring Discovery Through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge: The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)." Sheffield covered a general introduction of the BHL as well as recent accomplishments and metrics related to Kenya and Africa. BHL Africa colleagues, Asha Owono and Ben Nakitare were in attendance and provided additional support in relation to Kenyan participation in the BHL during the question and answer period. A participant from the Kenya Wildlife Service noted: "The lecture and demonstration were very encouraging and I have the feeling that this if pursued  more vigorously can enhance information sharing within the conservation field in this country and the world at large."

Kalfatovic, Albertine, Sheffield
Again, as Dr. Miller commented during the planning for this presentation, "This program is important for several reasons beyond helping users understand how to use the Biodiversity Heritage Library (which is important in itself). Kenya is poised to make significant additions to the BHL.  As was discussed at the Laikipia landscape workshop in February, there is a rich history of 'grey literature' in East Africa on agriculture, wildlife, public health, etc., that is not available to most people today."

The ARC was filled to capacity with sixty attendees. The Embassy social media team led by Amos Rono also presented the program as a Facebook Live broadcast as well as live streaming it to other U.S. Embassies in East Africa (see link below). Smithsonian Libraries and Biodiversity Heritage Library social media team also promoted the event.

Thanks to ARC Director George Kamau and ARC Deputy Director Nashon Akello for hosting the program in their space and Dan Travis (Public Affairs Officer), Megan Larson-Kone (Cultural Affairs Officer), Alka Bhatnagar (Information Resource Specialist), and Pushpinder Dhillon (Economic Section Chief) on the U.S. Embassy staff who worked to make this program a success.

View the Facebook Live presentation: